22 June

Friday. Doesn’t Gus Look Like Yoda, The Wizard Master?

by Jon Katz
Doesn’t He Look Like Yoda?

Some people were angry with me for calling our puppy “Gus,” but looking at this photo, I wonder if we shouldn’t have called him Yoda? Is it just me, or does he look like Yoda’s spawn, perhaps he will teach me the force, perhaps he is a wise teacher come to save me, and has taken the form of a Boston Terrier puppy, Gus has the wise eyes of Yoda, the wizard master of Star Wars.

Everywhere I went in town today, everybody I met asked me when the puppy was coming and wished me well. This, of course, is what I love about a small town, you may or may not be liked, but you are almost always known. We have set up our pens and crates and readied our toys and treats.

Maria and I talked about Gus this evening, and Maria confessed she didn’t love the puppy period, she loved the period when they grow up. I do love the puppy period, it gives me a chance to work on my dog training, something I love. So we are a good team, Gus will spend many happy hours in Maria’s lap, I can promise you that.

The housebreaking and training campaign will fall to me, Maria is just not into it, you know how artists are. One of us zigs, the other zags. We work well together, she can assemble a crate in a flash, I can figure out what to put in it.

I am not nervous about getting Gus home, but I am excited.

We will go straight from Robin Gibbons house to the Mansion, where Gus will meet the residents, I will bless his career as a therapy dog,  then to the Round House Cafe, where he has already been named an honorary cafe dog. Then, I think to the book store to meet Connie and her mother Marilyn, and then home.

I suspect he may be tired by then, we will feed him in his new temporary home, the downstairs crate and then take him outside for some facetime (inside his pen) with Fate and Red. Fate will have a meltdown, I imagine, we’ll see, she is the Queen Of The Hill around here, and will have to yield some territory.

He will be tired tomorrow, but will probably yowl all night for his mother and brothers and sisters. A rite of passage for puppies. I will close the bedroom door.

Getting a dog is a big deal for me, for two decades it has been the focal point of my work and much of my life. Dogs have sparked, witnessed, inspired or challenged me at every point at which I have evolved as a human being. I believe dogs are spirit dogs who come for a reason, Gus has yet to reveal his purpose to me, many of you will probably see it before I do.

I do think there is some wisdom in those eyes, it’s just how I feel. Every dog I have owned has changed me, most often for the better. I see dogs as the magical helpers who saved me and guided me on my hero’s journey. One got me to the country, another kept love alive, another brought Maria to me, another took me into hospice and other therapy work and brought me to the Mansion, a dog is now the official mascot of the Bedlam Farm Warriors Soccer Team (really?) and another is arriving tomorrow.

I can’t wait to see what he has in store for me, what he will teach me, how he will guide me. Am I putting too much on a dog? Some people will think so, but then, if you listen to some people, you will crawl up into bed and just wither.

Maybe I am overthinking, but I’m passive about it. Dogs have taught me patience and perspective, he might just be one of those fun dogs who lighten up life. And we have pure joy and fun together, always, me and my dogs.

I have always been a border collie and Lab person, I have not usually considered small and non-working dogs to be serious. The big touch men in trucks I have met up here – I consider many my friends – adore their small dogs in ways that surprise and puzzle me. Will that happen to me? I don’t know.

I am most at ease with the border collies. They share my work ethic, high-strung nature and obsessiveness. We think alike and get  each other. We are always asking, “what’s up?,”what’s next,” “when can we get to work?”

I got suddenly ill early this afternoon, perhaps some medications, perhaps something I ate, the pain in my stomach was severe and I was soaked in sweat and ill, I thought for a moment I might have to go to the hospital. Fate and Red instantly sensed something was wrong, Red came up to me and Fate climbed up onto the chair to sniff and lick my face and whine a bit.

I got better and was tired but okay, and I thought, this is why I love border collies so much, they miss nothing and see everything and know what is real and what is not. I wonder if Gus will be capable of that kind of connection?

I am eager to see what Gus asks of me, and what he requires from me. Those things are  hard to see when you’re in it, I am getting older and I expect  Gus to grasp that in some way. Dogs sense these things.

I am always looking to be a better human, every day I wake up and ask myself how to be a human being?  More than any human, dogs have helped me stumble along on that path.

And what if Gus is a wizard master, if the look is real?

So yes, another chapter in that journey tomorrow, another magical helper, perhaps, on the hero journey. What is the Kingdom, for me? It lies in the realization of the divine spark in my neighbors, my friends, my enemies, in all of us, and yes, our dogs as well.

See you tomorrow.

22 June

How Barn Cats Blend In

by Jon Katz
How Barn Cats Blend In

I love how cats find ways to blend in. Flo is the Queen of Bedlam Farm, she sometimes sleeps in the bird bath, sometimes on a hay bale, often on the front porch, sometimes in a box near the farmhouse. At night, she roams the fields, hunting mice, moles, rats and baby rabbits, often depositing their grisly remains by the  back door. Today, she chose to lie by a plant on the side porch, blending in with the shadows.

22 June

July 4th: Love The Country, Love The Mansion Residents

by Jon Katz
Love The Mansion: Madeline and Red

I wanted to remind the many friends of the Mansion out there that July 4th is approaching. I can’t tell you how much the residents of the Mansion appreciate your letters and cards and photographs. Any photos or messages about the Fourth of July would be appreciated, as there will be a fireworks celebration and part there, they will be using the new picnic  table and chairs you bought for them.

Your messages, gifts and packages have transformed the holidays for the Mansion residents. For many of them, holidays can be bittersweet, they think of different times and miss their fuller lives.

“When I get these letters,” Madeline told me yesterday, “I feel as if I have a family again. I don’t only have memories, I have real people writing to me and thinking of me.” Yesterday, Jane was writing a long letter to Joleen, who lives far away, Sylvie was writing back a new friend in Texas, Peggie showed me photos people’s dogs she has received in the mail, Connie was reading us from a wondrous stack of letters.

This exchange has changed and brightened lives, it is a wonderful thing you are doing.

If you wish to mark the Fourth of July in some way, it would be an apt and fitting time not only to love our country but these good and loving people who live on the edge of life. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the American spirit.

You can write to the Mansion residents at 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Here is a partial list of the Mansion residents, the ones who wish to receive your messages. They will all benefit from any other gifts or ideas that can be distributed. And thanks.

The names are Bruce, Allan, Sylvie, John Z, Tim, John R., Alanna, Peggie, Ellen, Joan, Brenda, Connie, Alice, Madeline, Mary (a great cat lover), Barbara, William, Brother Peter, Diane, Helen, Jane, Dottie, Anita, Richard, Gerry, Charlotte, Arthur, and George.

Gratitude for the Army Of Good, spreading  your magic.

22 June

The Gus Chronicles: Tomorrow, Phase One, Housebreaking And Socializing

by Jon Katz
Gus, Phase One. An outdoor pen is ready.

Tomorrow, we go and get Gus, he comes home to live with us. I am eager to understand the lure and feeling of the small dog, this is the first one I have ever owned. I love training puppies, it is like the grand game of chess for me, and I am working to get prepared. Maria and I had a big planning session this morning, we prepared one of Gus’s two crates inside the house, making the crate small for him at first.

In a crate where a puppy is being housebroken, the crate should be small (we packed the back with blankets and a cardboard petition) room for him to turn around a bit, but not too much. We expand the space as he moves around and grows. The crate will be covered with blankets so it will have a protected, den feeling.

The key to my idea of housebreaking is to give the dog a chance to succeed, little chance to fail. There will be accidents, of course, eight-week old puppies do not have large bladders or strong bladder control. All of his meals will be in the crate, he will come to associate it with food and safety. Five minutes after eating, he goes right outside, carried or on a leash.

I am not into punishment, it is usually pointless and ill-timed. If the puppy is being obnoxious or too boisterous, I simply put him in a crate with a bone or toy until he chills. One of the most important things I have to teach Gus is how to do nothing, it’s one of the only things dogs don’t know how to do themselves.

When he eliminates, as he will, he will get praised and reinforced (treats if useful). Then he will go back into the crate. He will come out only when we are with him, so there should be few accidents. This should take two or three days, and when he is housebroken, of course, he will only be in the crate when we are not around or to sleep at night.

Dogs do not like to eliminate where they sleep, so there is a natural inclination to go away. The animal and other natural smells of the outdoors stimulate them to eliminate, that is their natural preference. So we will give Gus plenty of chances to go outside and eliminate, very few to go inside. Going outside will become his habit.

It is very important to me not to scold puppies when they have accidents. It happens, and I just clean up and move along. Dogs should be reinforced when they do what we wish, not when they don’t.  I am keenly aware of the difficult change that new lives present for dogs.

Our definition of a “good dog” is a god that does not behave like a dog, but like a person. In our twisted lexicon, a “bad” dog is a dog who behaves like a dog. That is, they eliminate when they feel like it, eat disgusting stuff, dig holes, chew on the sofa legs, jump up on people, squabble with other dogs.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a “good” dog or “bad” dog, only dogs that are well and lovingly trained and dogs that are not.  Dogs do not have human consciences, they don’t act out of noble or evil motives. They act out of instinct and experience and breeding. Grounded, well bred dogs want to please people, they don’t need to be bullied or frightened into submission.

There are good and bad people, and caring for a dog calls us to be better humans.

A puppy is challenged to behave in ways that are completely unnatural and alien to him or her, the human’s job in my view is to be clear, firm, consistent, patient and always loving. People hate to accept it, but dogs don’t speak English or any other language, so we have to be clear and creative about explaining what we want.

There is an emotional component to dog training and a practical one. One needs to think ahead and be empathetic. It is not useful to be shouting at puppies, commands should bed loving and clear. You can frighten a dog into doing almost anything, that often has other consequences, and is unnecessarily cruel.

The burden is on us to think through what we are doing and help the dog succeed. When it fails, it is most often our fault, not theirs.

Maria and I divvy these things up. She is a visual person with little patience for puppies and training, I am more into the grand strategy of the thing.

So we put up a metal pen (above) in the back yard where we often sit, and I ordered another one for the dog area out back, in front of Maria’s studio. This is like having two more crates, one outside, one in the back. When we do farm chores, or are mowing or gardening or sitting and reading, Gus can we with us. I’ll throw in some toys and chew things. It doesn’t matter if he has an accident out in the pen, and he has room to move.

This will also give Red and Fate a chance to see him and get used to him (the donkeys and sheep as well, they will be close by) and get acclimated to him. And we won’t have to be shouting at home or chasing after him.

Control is essential when training a puppy. When a puppy is free to roam, he or she is also free to chew on furniture and rugs, pee all over the place, get into myriad kinds of trouble. Once a dog picks up a bad habit unchecked and uncorrected, it begins a regular habit, and it can be tough to break. My motto is give them a chance to succeed, not fail.

The pens are easily moveable, and just as playpens give babies a chance to play by themselves and be safe, the same applies to dogs. We will have an inside crate downstairs by the door, and another upstairs in the bedroom. We both expect Gus will eventually be sleeping in bed with us – Boston Terriers are known for this – and that is fine. But not until he is housebroken and past the teething stage.

The other pen will be outside of Maria’s studio, she can see it from her windows and he can be outside near her while the two of us work, or inside with me in his crate. Puppies in my house are never allowed to wander freely without supervision until they are housebroken, however long that takes. It shouldn’t be long.

Gus will have safe chew toys and playthings in the house, but no ball chasing inside. Our house is a calm place, a place of work and quiet. Mayhem can reign outside

I have several bags of good-smelling puppy training treats. I won’t start serious training for awhile, but I hope to have him sitting and perhaps coming to me on command by the end of next week. I will share this process of course.

Socialization begins instantly. Taking him in the car (yes, I am well aware of not leaving a dog in the car alone in the summer, please don’t tell me about it. I don’t take dogs anywhere on hot days except in an air conditioned car, and I never leave them in it for any reason, engine running or not.)

With Gus (as with many small dogs) heat is something to be mindful of because if their short snouts and respiratory concerns. Border collies are incredibly hardy, but I will want to be cautious with Gus on warm days until I get to know him better and understand his  limitations. I’m pretty convinced that he won’t need a sweater.

We are going to the Mansion over the weekend and I have arranged for other people to care for him for an hour or so on different days – the dentist office crew has volunteered, so has the Round House Cafe, the Mansion, and the Battenkill Bookstore. I am a huge believer in giving young dogs every opportunity to meet new people in different circumstances, especially is he is going to be a therapy dog, as I hope Gus will be.

So I think we’re ready. We even have a nighttime plan. Maria loves to get up in the night and be outside  in nature (she is wonderfully strange in many ways) and so she will get up in the middle of the night to take Gus out. We do not put any water down for puppies after 6 p.m., that will reduce accidents in the night. In the daytime, they can drink as much as they wish.

Then around sunrise, I’ll get up, take him outside feed him, play with him and train him a bit, and then put him in his outdoor pen with the other dogs while I shower, get dressed and have breakfast. On rainy days, everybody goes inside. We’ll bring him out to the pasture (holding  him) so the other animals can get used to him. The donkeys are guard animals, they are capable of attacking strange animals.

Once they know the animal lives on the farm, then they will protect them, not hurt them. You just have to be cautious and give them time.

So that’s it. Phase One, Housebreaking, acclimation and socializing. We’re ready.

22 June

Schoolhouse Studio Surprise

by Jon Katz
Schoolhouse Studio Surprise

Maria invited me into the studio this morning – I rarely go in there without an invitation, this is her sacred space – and I was startled to see this new figure she was creating, which is not a quilt or hanging piece but a mystical figure with a head piece of buttons sitting on a staff.

The inspiration was from ancient mystical figures of worship, but Maria won’t say much more about it, she is still working on it. There is a different face on the other side. I appreciate Maria’s amazingly inventive mind, she is going back to work after the disruption of the Open House. I was speechless, but it has gotten into my head.

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